Friday, June 1, 2018

Do Writing and Grammar Even Matter Anymore?

In the digital age, it may seem like writing and grammar skills are no longer essential, since everywhere you look you see examples of poor writing, improper grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Lamenters blame digital media, public education, or parenting methods. It is likely that there are a variety of reasons, but what really matters are the answers to two key questions: 
  1. Are poor writing, grammar, and punctuation impacting our ability to communicate with one another on the job?
  2. Do we need to do something about it?

At Prism we believe the answer to both is “YES” for several reasons.  Unlike face-to-face communication where words, voice, and body language help clarify the message, in written communication we have only the words and formatting of those words to form our impression of the writer.  Does this matter in written communication on the job?

      Writing mistakes lead to impressions about the writer’s credibility, education, intelligence, or professionalism. Writing mistakes also lead the reader to wonder if the writer really cares about the reader or the written message. How important is the message if the writer didn’t even take the time to proofread it?

          If that’s not enough, grammar mistakes and writing styles that are difficult to read can lessen the degree to which the message is clearly understood. Good ideas get lost in bad writing.

That said, English and American English in particular, presents a cacophony of rules and rule exceptions that leave all but the most dedicated scholars baffled at times. There may be, therefore, some good reasons to relax our standards on some of the more persnickety rules. But first, let’s look at some of the topics we see our participants latching on to when we deliver our Write On! courses at businesses and public entities.
  • The effectiveness of using the active vs. passive voice
  • How to make writing more clear, concise, and readable
  • Forming noun plurals
  • Apostrophes—for possession, contractions, or plurals?
  • Pronoun consistency
  • Common word usage mistakes
  • Common spelling mistakes

Where can grammar pedants afford to lighten up in on-the-job writing?  As a general rule, default to a conversational and customer-friendly tone. 
  • Avoid words like whom, whomever, heretofore, hereby, and per; even when correct they may sound pretentious and off-putting.
  • And it’s okay to begin a sentence with And or But to keep it conversational. But not too often.
  • Since English has no neutral third-person singular pronouns, we often recommend the use of the third-person plural (they or them) to avoid the cumbersome use of he/she and her/him.  This also demonstrates respect for those who are not comfortable with gender-specific pronouns. 
  • Unlike what many of us may have been taught, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition, if re-writing the sentence will make it sound awkward or pretentious. 

We want to hear from you! 
What grammar and writing rule do you believe 
should be "relaxed" or thrown out altogether?

     Finally, the key to successful writing on the job is to make it clear, concise, accurate, and reader-focused.  Write to inform, not to impress.  No readers will be impressed if they have to read your writing two or three times to get the gist of the message.

To take your business writing to the next level, take a look at Prism’s two popular writing courses:  Write ON! Writing and Grammar courses

Visit the Prism Learning Solutions website.

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